She was beautiful, young and from Europe.
During one of the decentralized bhandaras, she had walked in at the Delhi Ashram. She had a camera slung from her shoulder and a tripod in her arms.
That was the first thing I had noticed about her but not for long.
When she was walking with the sun behind her, you could see her bare, long legs under a flimsy skirt. As if the sun had lit them up.
Doesn’t she know she is in an Ashram and not at some party or club? I had thought at the time.
I realised it would be my lot to warn her from wearing such dresses to Ashram.
An opportunity came my way a little later.
An Indian couple requested me to go with them to the Gurgaon Ashram. They had not known the way. I have always had this reputation of being a helpful guy. When I am standing outside Master’s room, then, I am a different person altogether, a raging bull.
I agreed to go with the couple to the Gurgaon Ashram.
It was then I got to know the young European woman would be travelling with us. She was staying with the two. She, too, wanted to see the Gurgaon Ashram.
“Do me a favour,” I said to the abhyasi. “Tell her not to wear such dresses to Ashram in the future.”
He gave me an all knowing smile. When it comes to women, how easily, we men are on the same page.
It is never a healthy situation in the Ashram when abhyasis come dressed as if it is some party or club. One comes to Ashram with a different purpose in mind. Imagine sitting down to meditate on divine light with the image of long legs of a young woman playing at the back of your mind.
In this context, I can give a personal example.
I remember, once, I was sitting in Delhi Ashram. I was waiting for the satsangh to start. An American woman was sitting in front of me. We were sitting close. A large number of abhyasis had squeezed into a small hall. We were almost breathing down another’s back. When the satsangh started, I was not able to focus on the divine light.
No, she was not wearing a backless dress or something.
It was just that I was more focused on not slumping forward and banging my head against her. I have seen many women misbehave at most innocuous and accidental of touches as if they have been molested or violated. I didn’t want that to happen.
That experience was enough for me to understand what Chariji had once said in the same hall. He said that he had been to America. On seeing men and women sitting together, he had suggested to them that they should sit separately during meditation-men on one side and women on the other. There had been an uproar over his suggestion.
Men and women started arguing against this gender segregation. He asked them to give it a try before condemning. But nobody was listening. He had to give an example. Imagine sitting in a hall to meditate. You feel your arm come into contact with another. Its softness makes you press yours more against it. He said he could more examples but he wouldn’t. He wanted them to try it for sometime but if they did not see any benefit accruing from it, they could revert back if they wanted to. There was no compulsion from his side.
At the time, I myself had not wanted to understand this segregation during meditation. I thought it was a regressive measure. We were modern, liberals, progressive and what not. But that one practical experience in the hall with the American woman sitting in front of me during satsangh made me understand everything in an instant.
From that moment onward, I had taken upon myself the task of moral and fashion policing in the Ashram.
When we reached the Gurgaon Ashram, I got busy with some work. The European woman got down to interviewing her hosts and other abhyasis for a French TV Channel.
When she found herself free at some point of time and saw me standing alone, she walked up to me.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised.
“For what,” I asked. There was no way I could have known that the man had communicated my reservation about the dress to her. I had not met him after we reached the Gurgaon Ashram. I had become busy with some work.
“For wearing this,” she replied.
“It is okay,” I said. “But be careful in the future.”
We got down to talking.
In the course of our conversation, she asked me, “Why do you need a Guru?”
“When you first go to school, you need a teacher to teach the alphabets. When you get promoted to the next class, you need another teacher to take you to a higher level. And so it goes on till you go to college, you need a lecturer or a professor. If you want to do PhD. you need a guide. Don’t you? Why then there is this phobia about Gurus in the western world. We all need somebody who knows more than we do, don’t we,” I explained to her.
I may have sounded a little learned, wise or even a fundamentalist.
She wanted to interview me too for the French Channel.
It was tough persuading her not to but I did manage to do it.
Some months later, I moved to Chennai Ashram.
I kept running into her during her visits there. I was happy to note that she was always wearing leotards or leggings under her skirt.
Initially, we avoided talking with another. Our encounter in Delhi Ashram might have got something to do with it. But it was difficult not to talk in the Chennai Ashram. It is a small place. People keeping running into one another in the meditation hall, in the kitchen, in the canteen, near the shoe stand, near Master’cottage, in the library, in the reception office . In short almost everywhere.
Besides, my job was such that it kept me moving around in the Ashram all the time We could not ignore one another for long.
We started talking.
That’s how I got to know she was a teacher back home and knew Spanish.
It gave me reason enough to brush up on my Spanish with her.
Once I got to know there was a vacancy in Lalaji Memorial School
I told her about it.
She said she could not take up the job as her parents were old. On that salary, she said she could not afford to go back home often to look after them.
I agreed with her.
Before I came back to Delhi, I ran into her one last time. She had come to celebrate Christmas or New Year’s Eve at Chennai Ashram.
I was rushing down to the shoe stand from the hall after meditation. She was coming down the steps from the roof of one of the dormitories.
We met accidentally by the side of one of the metallic lions.
I greeted her.
While returning my greeting, she said, “We keep running into one another.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“There must be some reason behind this,” she said.
I thought the conversation was getting too personal.
“No,” I said. “It is just that my job keeps me moving around in the Ashram all the time.”
She froze immediately. It was as if I had snubbed her
I felt like a heel.
“You are good looking,” I said in Spanish to bring the conversation to an impersonal level.
It confused her further.
I made some excuse to get away from an awkward situation as quickly as I could.
If ever I meet her again and she asks me, I would now be in a better position to reply to her.
Maybe, Master was trying to tell her that I was not a fundamentalist. I was only doing my job as I thought fit.